Toasts from patrons fail to save Islington sports bar from tougher licensing conditions

Islington Sports Bar and Grill. Image: Google

Tougher conditions have been imposed on a popular Islington sports bar after police found people drinking there after hours and a series of breaches of Covid regulations, despite locals arguing in its favour.

The licence review at the Islington Sports Bar and Grill on Holloway Road followed a request by the police.

The bar is close to the Emirates stadium and is popular with Arsenal fans.

Police lawyer Ryan Dowling told the licensing committee: “There were a series of incidents involving effectively non-compliance of not only licence conditions but also Covid regulations.

“This is the most deadly pandemic in history. It’s pretty important these conditions are complied with.”

He said that the month after the first national lockdown kicked in on 26 March 2020, police reported a “lack of social distancing” at the bar, followed by other instances in July and August.

There was a meeting last September with the manager, who was given advice on how to avoid problems.

Dowling said on 15 April 2021, a “small scuffle of around eight people in a fight at the premises was a taste of things to come”.

The following month, on the same day as management met Islington Council staff to discuss extra conditions, there was “the most serious incident” with “large-scale disorder” at the front of the bar.

Dowling added: “It involved drunken patrons falling into the busy road, it involved females and males brawling with one another at the front of the premises and, perhaps most importantly, the staff members at the premises appeared pretty impotent in dealing with the actual problems that were occurring that night.

“Indeed the police were not called by staff members, they were called by a member of the public following the disarray.”

The police visited on 18 May at about 2.30am and found several people drinking “long past its licensing hours”.

On 25 May, another serious incident occurred, with “very much a lack of social distancing, very much a lack of control”, according to Dowling.

Police were called to help 40 or more drunk people to leave at the end of the evening, and Dowling said they spotted “very full drinks” which suggested they were served recently.

Terrie Lane from the council’s licensing team said: “There is a long history of non-compliance as well as Covid contraventions as well.”

She welcomed the bar’s agreement to have door supervisors on busier days.

Resident Dan Slater told the licensing committee there had been breaches of the licensing hours and Covid breaches “on several occasions”.

He said police also discovered a lock-in while they were just walking past the door: “This is while the rest of us in Islington and across the country were staying home to protect the NHS and to save lives. We’ll never know how many other times this happened when the police weren’t walking past.”

Ian Pogue is regular customer at the bar and said: “On no occasion have I witnessed anything that I consider to be an issue of public safety.”

He added: “I have not found a place that was more strict [in following Covid rules].”

Customers’ temperature was taken and they were told to sit down, with table service only.

Former police officer Donald Elliot, who specialised in public order, also spoke up for the bar.

He lives nearby and said he saw customers following the rules, and “well organised fans”, adding: “During Euro 2020 there was a fantastic supporting crowd in there with absolutely no trouble.”

Health worker Ashley Starmer has visited the bar after work with A&E staff.

He said the adherence to Covid rules “has been second to none, and we commented as colleagues about how well they followed the procedures”.

Philip Somarakis, the bar’s lawyer, explained it had hired an  independent licensing consultant who made unannounced visits and drew up recommendations to improve things.

The designated premises supervisor John Phelan told the committee about improvements they’ve brought in.

“We’ve put some more management structures in place, starting on dispersal policy – all staff been trained and are very clear on that,” he said.

They also use the Challenge 25 policy to prevent underage drinking and record if they refuse to serve people or ask them to leave.

There are also policies to manage the outside space and prevent people blocking passersby.

Phelan explained that three staff have passed their licensing exam, and also said the bar is considering installing blinds to stop people looking in to watch sporting events.

He added: “The night we had issues with the protest down at the Emirates stadium, I don’t think anyone was prepared for that. We had people with food and drink from other establishments and tried to move them on.”

He said last orders are called at 11.45pm, with everyone out by 12.30am.

Islington’s licensing committee (12 August) decided to remove designated premises supervisor John Phelan.

It also said there should be a minimum of two Security Industry Authority door staff on Friday and Saturday nights, on Arsenal match days and when the Emirates stadium is screening events.

They should be on duty from 6pm and until half an hour after closing to help people leaving quietly.